Tuesday, August 30, 2011

October 1939: Smash Comics #5

Cover by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring Black Ace' (by Will Eisner): Eisner is delving back into his usual bag of tricks, opening with a montage of the war in Europe.  It's something he has done a lot, but it certainly is an effective way of laying out the stakes. The rest of the story sees the Black Ace going up against a foreign saboteur who is waging a campaign against the US armament program. It was going well until the end, where the USA becomes so well-armed and powerful that all the nations in Europe decide to make peace rather than risk war with America. It's exactly the sort of naive patriotic propaganda that I can't stand.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic goes to war-torn country of Moravia and ends up helping rescue the Princess Maria from a kidnapping. There's a bit of sword-fighting, but the bulk of the action is glossed over in a single caption, and the rest is fairly dull.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): I've only just twigged to this, but there's an over-arching plot to this series. The villainous Avenger is seeking revenge against thirteen wealthy businessmen, and John Law must stop him. In this story the Avenger (who is never seen) tries to destroy a railway magnate by wrecking his trains with an anti-gravity device. The story is average, but at least I'm sort of intrigued to see what the Avenger is like when he finally appears.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings must deal with a group of spies who try to photograph an experimental plane during combat maneuvers. It's fairly dull.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): The crooks whose plot Clip foiled last issue are still hanging around. They kidnap him to try and fix another game, but he escapes and makes it to the game in time to score the winning touchdown. I swear that these football strips have exactly one plot. And it ain't a good one.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice topples some racketeers who are being led by a respected doctor. The story isn't great, and I'm starting to think that the whole set-up here is flawed. An action story where the protagonist is always invisible isn't the easiest thing to pull off, and Pinajian isn't able to do it.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul's best friend is implicated in the murder of some tourists, and Abdul must find the real culprit. It's a decent premise with mediocre execution.

'The Cloudburst part II' (by A.L. Allen): G-Man Jim Mitchell last issue witnessed some horse smugglers being caught in a flash flood. In this story he rescues the leader and arrests him, and also saves him from a dog he beat in the last chapter. To be honest I was kind of zoned out here.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith): Cook takes on a gang smuggling an explosive gas in powder form, hidden in a linen shipment. Like just about all the stories in this issue, this is another very boring one.

'Flash Fulton' (by Paul Gustavson): Flash Fulton exposes a mayor who wants to deliberately blow up his town's dam. I read the story twice, and I still can't figure out why the mayor wanted to do this.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by Wayne Reid): A gang of foreign spies hatches a plan to destroy Hugh's robot with their death ray. It's more entertaining than most of the fare in this issue, but that's saying very little.

Monday, August 29, 2011

October 1939: Feature Comics #27

It's going to be a quick review today, because all I could find from Feature Comics #27 was the Doll Man story.  Looking at the cover below, it's weird that Doll Man debuts as the issue's headliner, yet he doesn't make the cover at all, not even as a little head shot.

Cover by creators unknown, possibly Ed Cronin

'The Doll Man' (by Jerry Iger and Will Eisner): This is the origin story of Doll Man, one of Quality's more popular super heroes. Scientist Darrel Dane invents a formula with which he can shrink to the size of a doll, and he uses his new found power to battle a crook who is blackmailing his fiancee. The plot itself isn't that interesting, but it really just serves as a backdrop against which Doll Man can show off his powers.  The most interesting bit comes after Dane first shrinks, and he goes temporarily insane and attacks his fiancee's father with a hypodermic needle. That's something I'd like to see expanded on, but I doubt it's going to happen. It's also never explained why the doll-sized Dane is so powerful, possessing the ability to punch out full-grown men. Nevertheless, despite the inauspicious debut, there are some hooks to hang some interesting stories on.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

October 1939: More Fun Comics #49, Daring Mystery Comics #1, Marvel Mystery Comics #2

Cover by Creig Flessel

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): In the last story Wing captured the Arab chieftain Ali Pascha behind enemy lines. After beating Pascha up, he single-handedly takes on his army and opens the gates of his city for the Foreign Legion. It's a decently entertaining action story.

'Biff Bronson' (by Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan accidentally receive an invitation to a secret meeting, where they find a group of hooded criminals who want to kill the scientist Tnopud and take his formulas. The gang is eventually arrested, but their leader escapes. There's a bit of interest when a disguised Biff and Dan are tasked with killing Tnopud, but I've already seen that plot done better just a few days ago.

'King Carter' (by Paul J. Lauretta): New strip!  King Carter is a wealthy oilfield owner, jewel hunter, and adventurer. He and his friend Red Rogers photograph some top secret Chinese installations, and spend the rest of the story running away and beating up Chinese soldiers. I think that this is supposed to be a good-humoured adventure strip, but the relentless racism is too hard to ignore.

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): After Prince Natria helps Dennis win his ship back from Dr. Killmen, Dennis decides to help him win his country back from its usurper. He infiltrates the pretender's palace, only to find... Regina? To be honest, I have as much idea who she is as you do. The rest of this story was okay, but the cliffhanger was meaningless to me. Whether that's my own fault or the writer's I'm not sure about.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): A rowdy young man kills a bar owner by accident and hides out with his criminal brother, and Sandy and Larry must chase him down. It's decent enough.

'Unexpected Exercise' (by Jack Anthony): A man training for football sees some people swimming away from a burning ship and dives into the ocean to rescue them. And remember kids, you too could save someone's life if you exercise enough!

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662 in the Flaming Inferno' (by B. Hirsch and R. Lehman): In Honolulu, Bob saves a scientist from an exploding volcano. Take how exciting that story sounds, invert it, and that's exactly how boring it is.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This strip finally gets away from English and French history to tell the story of Ivan the Great and the rise of the Russian monarchy. The new setting livens things up considerably, and it doesn't hurt that this story is more concerned with battles than politics.

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex Darrell and Buzz deal with a group of air pirates who are stealing jewel shipments. This is predictable and dull.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Voodoo Vengeance' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey and Sleepy investigate a mysterious murder in a voodoo nightclub. The mystery here was intriguing, but the conclusion was unimpressive. Still with dialogue like this, who can complain: "You're a fool Congi! All your voodoo can't save you from the law!"

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): A recently fired lumberjack named Pierre tries to steal his former boss's payroll. I normally hate this strip, but Pierre is the greatest villain ever.

This guy needs his own spin-off, BY GAR!

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): Martin is helping at an Egyptian archaeological dig that is being menaced by a masked phantom. From the very unfunny "wacky" Englishman to the complete lack of motivation for the villain, this is terrible.

Cover by Alex Schomburg

'The Fiery Mask' (by Joe Simon): Doctor Jack Castle is called in to investigate a strange case, and ends up fighting against a gigantic blue mad scientist and his army of hypnotised zombies. Jack ends up captured and subjected to the scientist's hypnotism ray, but his resistance causes the ray to explode and gives him all the powers of wind, rain, storm and sunlight. His face even glows when he's angry, and so he takes on the identity of the Fiery Mask to fight evil.

This is nuts. This story never stops to explain anything, it just barrels on from one crazy thing to the next with no regard for logic. Why is the mad scientist a giant? Where do the huge subterranean vultures come from? Who knows. The plot is terrible, but it gets by on sheer energy and manic enthusiasm.  I'd be happy if the Golden Age was full of more stuff like this.

'John Steele, Soldier of Fortune' (by Larry Antonette): Steele is an Allied soldier fighting against the Nazis. In this story he must help a female spy get a message to a general, and in doing so kill as many Nazis as is humanly possibly in the span of 9 pages. I swear he kills or punches a Nazi in almost every panel. The plot is nonexistent, but it certainly does pack in the action.  I believe that this is the only appearance of this character in the Golden Age, but he was revived recently by Ed Brubaker in Secret Avengers and The Marvels Project.  On the strength of this I'm not sure why, but recycling old, obscure characters is something I approve of.

'The Texas Kid, Robin Hood of the Range' (by Ben Thompson): The Texas Kid is a generic cowboy do-gooder. In this story he deals with a gang that has been raiding local ranchers, and the banker who is in on it. This is exactly the same sort of crap I've been dealing with in DC's

'Monako, Prince of Magic' (by Larry Antonette): Monako is a heroic magician, basically a knock-off of Zatara from Action Comics (who is probably a knock-off of Mandrake, to be honest). Monako's old foe Muro is after the formula to a new explosive, and kidnaps its inventor. Monako goes to his rescue, using his inventive magic tricks. It's not awful, but it lacks a lot of the charm of Zatara.

'The Thundering Terror of Gold Creek' (by Ray Gill): This prose story certainly doesn't muck about: it opens with a herd of crazed horses demolishing a mining town in the Old West. It turns out that a rival town has inserted pieces of metal into the horses' brains and is controlling them with radio waves. That's pretty much cooler than every single prose story in any of the DC comics so far.

'Flash Foster at Midwestern' (by Bob Wood): Aah, a football strip! And in the grand tradition of all sport strips, the first plot is about match fixing, as gangsters kidnap Flash's girl to try and get him to throw the game. It's all territory we've seen before, though it should be said that Flash determines to play at his best regardless of what might happen to his girlfriend. Wotta jerk!  Luckily he's a one-off, and I'll never have to see him again.

'Phantom of the Underworld' (by Maurice Gutwirth): Detective Denton, also a master surgeon, infiltrates a gang of crooks and becomes their doctor. I couldn't find much to like or hate about this one, and we never see Denton again.

'Barney Mullen, Sea Rover' (by Chas Pearson): Barney must carry a cargo of gold filigree to Rotterdam, as both sides in World War 2 try to blow him up and his own crew tries to mutiny. There are no shortage of threats in this story, which raises an otherwise crap story to an average level.  Again, Barney Mullen is a one-off, which makes five such strips in this comic book.

Cover by Charles J. Mazoujian

'The Human Torch' (by Carl Burgos): The Torch tackles a crook who is fixing motor races by firing incendiary bullets into the cars from his plane. The bad guy, Ross, is certainly resourceful - in the course of this story he manages to frame the Torch for his own crime, bury him in boiling lime, and encase him in molten metal. It doesn't work, but he's got one up on most Golden Age villains. With a decent villain and a breakneck pace I enjoyed this despite its crudeness. I'm still amazed just how much more energy than everything else the Marvel comics have.

'The Angel' (by Paul Gustavson): The Angel goes to Hong Kong to protect a girl from people who want the treasure map she's carrying. It's not bad, but the Angel is pretty generic. It's hard to stand out when you're sandwiched between the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.

'The Sub-Mariner' (by Bill Everett): Sub-Mariner continues his war against humanity, this time in New York. There's absolutely no plot to this whatsoever; it's just a string of events, with Namor following his every whim and impulse while trying to avoid the authorities. But in saying that, Namor is a compelling character. He's almost the flip-side of Superman. Both characters can be seen freaking out and destroying public property, but Superman does so to help the downtrodden, while Namor just does it because he wants to. He's probably the most interesting character of the Golden Age so far.

'The Masked Raider' (by Al Anders): The Masked Raider goes undercover to take on a gang of outlaws. Being terribly uninteresting, it's firmly within the law of averages for Golden Age westerns.

'American Ace' (by Paul J. Auretta): Perry Wade is an American who gets caught up in the war between the fake countries of Castile D'or and Attainia. This thing has more explosions than a Michael Bay movie, and ends about as satisfyingly. Perry survives a bombing raid, and that's pretty much the whole story.

'Death-Bird Squadron' (by David C. Cooke): Speaking of bombing raids, this prose story sees the Angel caught in the middle of one in Poland. His solution: jump up into the plane, throw the pilot out, then shoot down the other planes. As a scene, it's not bad. As a story, it's woeful.

'Adventures of Ka-Zar the Great' (by Ben Thompson): Ka-Zar fights an ape-man over a mirror and wins, but spares his life. Later, that same ape-man returns for vengeance, kidnapping a cub of the lions that Ka-Zar now lives with. Ka-Zar tracks him down and kills him. The moral of the story? Always kill your enemies, no matter what.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

October 1939: Detective Comics #33

Cover by Bob Kane
'Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom' (by Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Bob Kane): Scientist (and Napoleon admirer) Carl Kruger tries to take over the world with his death ray and huge dirigible. Batman puts a stop to him using just about every trick in his arsenal. This story, even more so than the previous vampire two-parter, is the one where all the pieces come together.

It kicks off with Batman's origin story: coming home from a movie, Bruce Wayne's parents are killed by a mugger. He vows to rid the world of crime, trains himself physically and mentally, and is inspired by a bat flying through his window. All the major points are covered, although there are a lot of details left to fill in. We don't learn who the mugger is, for example, or what movie the Waynes had just seen.  A lot of the iconography, such as Martha's pearls, isn't present.  But it's a well executed origin as written by Bill Finger, and gives Batman something besides an awesome costume.

Batman also really comes into his own as a scientist here. We see him mixing chemicals and using all sorts of gadgets, from the batarang to the batplane to a variety of gas pellets. This Batman is very recognisable in comparison to the modern version.

The story ends with an image of Batman posing with a gun, and I've often heard it said that Batman used a gun in his early stories. So far that's only been true once, and then it was to shoot vampires with silver bullets. I'll be keeping an eye on Batman's gun use to see if it's actually a sort of comic book urban myth.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): When the fake European nation of Luxen is annexed by the equally fake Thoria, its president escapes to America. Bart must protect him from assassination, and when he returns to Luxen he also helps him incite the citizens to resist their oppressors. The conclusion is fairly unconvincing: the Thorians are holding an election for Luxen people to vote on whether they want to be annexed, and apparently just by voting against this the nation is freed. That's really not how these sorts of things work.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): The Acme Mining Syndicate wants to buy a mine that has suddenly struck it rich, but Buck and the sheriff are suspicious. It turns out that the mine owner is using a syringe to inject the ore samples with gold particles so that he can sell his worthless mine for big bucks. This one has a novel premise, and isn't too bad at all.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Ken Ernst): Larry investigates a series of jade thefts from a department store. It turns out that one of the managers is the culprit, in a story where the information needed to solve the mystery is only revealed at the end (something I hate in mystery stories). It's not all bad though. Larry's hard-as-nails secretary Brenda is introduced, and she adds a much-needed second dimension to his personality.  I think she can accurately be described as a "sassy dame".

'Coffee-Colored Diamonds' (by Frank Thomas): An FBI agent goes to Brazil to expose a diamond smuggler who is hiding the gems inside coffee beans. It gets the job done.

'Speed Saunders Ace Investigator and the Northwoods Mystery' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed goes hunting in Canada, and ends up fighting against a crazy guy who is killing and stealing fur from other hunters. This was okay despite the very high Mountie presence.

'Cosmo, the Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo captures a gang of bank robbers who have tunneled through the sewers to commit their crimes. It's an average story brought even lower by some cliched criminal stupidity.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): While hunting big game in the Congo, Bruce Nelson is captured by tribesmen and told that he'll be sacrificed to their "White Goddess". It ends with one of those cliffhangers where the protagonist stares in amazement at something we can't see, which is always terrible. But the rest of the set-up is done pretty well.

'Slam Bradley' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Slam and Shorty rescue an heiress and her guardian Farnsby from gangsters who want to steal her $500,000 diamond. Hijinks ensue when Shorty eats the diamond by mistake, and all sorts of crazy characters come by to try and get it out of him. As it turns out, Farnsby is behind the whole thing, and he pocketed the diamond himself and lied about Shorty swallowing it. In terms of the writing it's just as entertaining as ever, but with Mart Bailey on pencils instead of Joe Shuster there's an inevitable drop in quality.  If this is the end of the Siegel/Shuster collaboration on this strip I'll be very disappointed. It's been the best run I've read on a Golden Age strip so far.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

October 1939: Adventure Comics #44, All-American Comics #6

Cover by Creig Flessel

'The Sandman' (by Gardner Fox and Creig Flessel): The Sandman goes up against a criminal mastermind called The Face, who has murdered one of the Sandman's childhood friends in order to claim his oil wells. It's good to see the Sandman getting back to his roots, fighting street level crimes in New York. The story is decent enough, and the ending features a brutal Sandman just crashing his car into the Face as he's riding a train-track handcar over a bridge. He does not mess about.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): My concerns about the brevity of Fang Gow's return last issue may have been unfounded, because he's back in this issue to cause more trouble. This time he's concocted a formula that can temporarily turn people into wax statues, and he's using it to ship all the crooks of Paris to the USA. Once again his plan is dealt with in a single story, which I feel is a gross disservice to the character. But it's a solid enough adventure yarn in its own right.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Steve Carson stops a jewel smuggler who is bringing his goods into the USA without paying a duty tax to customs. It's a boring story, and I can't help but sympathise with the crooks. Why the hell should you have to pay money to the government just to bring jewelry into the country? (Looks like I can kiss goodbye any hope I had of joining the Junior Federal Men Club!)

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): Socko and Jerry expose a crook who has disguised himself as the heir to a million dollar fortune in order to claim the money. It's a big step down from his adventures with the man-eating stegosaurus, that's for sure.

'Mystery in London' (by Gardner Fox): A detective investigates a murder and the theft of a priceless diamond, which was done by a fanatical Indian religious cult. This is a terrible story with the most cardboard of villains.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and Gabby are still on Skull Island, being hunted like game by the evil Count Ogreoff. The premise had me interested, but the execution was about as boring as possible.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): Skip heads to the "Arctic Waste" to search for a comrade who went missing in a plane crash. Suspicion is immediately thrown on a local crazy Eskimo, but during Skip's search he falls through some ice and into the water. To be continued! It's a solid set-up.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Steve and Rusty escape in a boat from Chen Fu's lair, while behind them a boat full of their pursuers is crushed by an ocean liner. Kane finds room for another entertaining multi-panel fight scene.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Two rival ships are operating as gambling dens, floating outside the three-mile limit in neutral waters. Don and Red set them against each other, and arrest the ringleaders in the confusion. It's a novel premise that results in a fairly average story.

'Cotton Carver and the Magnetic Peril' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): Cotton Carver helps King Marl fend off another rebellion by Jagar. This one put me to sleep (in the story's defense, it was 2 am).

Cover by Walter Galli, Jon L. Blummer and William Smith

This issue opens with a very interesting editorial about the war in Europe, urging Americans to think of their own country and support the President's Neutrality Proclamations. In other words, let Europe deal with its own problems, we don't want to get involved. It's not a side of US history that you hear about too often.

'Gary Concord the Ultra-Man' (by Jon L. Blummer): The history of Gary Concord Sr. continues. He has just woken up after a 200 year sleep, to find the USA menaced by the warlord Rebborizan. Gary wages war for years until Rebborizan is defeated, and eventually uses the same foam that put him to sleep to knock out the warlord's forces. In the future, Gary Jr., the new High Moderator of the USA, is also menaced by war-mongering forces. This story never lets up.  The war is inventive and action-packed, and there's enough of a hook in the framing sequence to get me interested in Gary Jr.'s story.

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): When a new island is raised by volcanic activity in the Pacific, Red, Whitey and Blooey must rush to claim it before the Japanese. This story is lacking the usual humour of this strip, and has replaced it with some definite anti-Japanese sentiments. I'm starting to get the feeling that I'm not going to enjoy a lot of war-time comics.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon L. Blummer): Man, I don't know what's gotten into Hop Harrigan. He and Gerry go to the aid of a ship stuck in some ice. There's a poet there who starts sweet-talking Gerry. There's also a sick guy who Gerry tries to help, only to make him worse and necessitate his going to hospital. Hop is just enraged through the whole thing. The dude is seriously on the edge, which is weird, because he's never displayed a temper at all before. It's probably girl trouble, which at least makes him seem like an actual human being. A little bit of character drama goes a long way in the Golden Age, and I enjoyed this quite a bit.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): While Wiley is being court-martialled, his old sweetheart decides to come to his aid. I don't know why I'm suddenly enjoying this strip. I think the crapness of it has somehow become endearing.

'Adventures in the Unknown' (by Carl H. Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Ted and Alan travel back in time a million years, to a time when cavemen, pterodactyls, sabre-tooth tigers and the brontosaurus all co-existed. (Hey, science, stop arguing - it's in the story, so it must be true.) The story is oddly fixated on the logistics of survival, as opposed to the radness of dinosaurs and cavemen. The premise is all set here for some craziness, but this strip always ends up being more restrained than I want it to be.

'Syndicate of Schemes Part II' (by George Shute): In the last chapter Phil and Jimmy were trailing smugglers, and found a murdered maid. They continue the investigation, Jimmy gets captured by the smugglers, and is forced to lead Phil into a trap. This one is just going through the motions.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly inspires his principal to become a cartoonist, and drives his teacher crazy enough that she becomes one as well. It's a cut above the usual humour strip fare, but below the usual standard for Scribbly.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben and Professor Mattix are still trying to make civilised boys out of six reform school hooligans. Ben does so by fighting their leader and getting him to "organise" the others. Interesting that the only way these kids can be won over is through the application of violence.

'The American Way' (by John B. Wentworth and Walter Galli): The Depression hits, and people start to freak out. This is a pretty compelling portrayal of what can happen to normal people when their way of life is threatened.

'The Adventures of Popsicle Pete' (by Sheldon Mayer): Trying to raise money to start a radio station, Pete and his friends start a band and play in a restaurant. A little of Mayer's humour is starting to creep into this strip.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

September-October 1939: Smash Comics #4, Blue Ribbon Comics #2, Action Comics #19

Cover possibly by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring Black Ace' (by Will Eisner): As the threat of war looms between the USA and "The Orient", Black Ace must transport the US defense plans to a conference in California while avoiding a sexy foreign agent named Madame Doom. This strip gets better and better, and this is one of the best examples of the spy genre seen in comics to this date. It's also interesting to see Eisner using a lot of cinematic storytelling shortcuts, such as a flurry pf newspaper headlines, and the old "line on a map" to denote long-distance travel. There aren't any other comic artists doing this stuff at this time, but Eisner's using the techniques effectively.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Last issue, Clip was tricked into breaking curfew by his rival Ray Snort, and now he's off the football team. Meanwhile, some gamblers have stolen Clip's playbook and given it to the other team.  The part of this story where Clip is investigating all of the shenanigans is quite solid, but it all falls apart once he's solved everything and makes his triumphant return to the football field. There's something inherently dull about watching real sports depicted as comics.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice goes up against the Green Lizard, a masked crime lord who is blackmailing wealthy businessmen for money. It's an average story, but the swamp setting gives it a little bit of atmosphere.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith): Cook infiltrates a gang of anarchists who have been blowing up buildings in London. His disguise goes awry when he is assigned to blow up a bridge, but he manages to capture them all in the end. The only thing that this story has going for it is that the villains all wear Cobra Commander hoods. This is a fairly common occurrence in the comics of this era, and I wonder what the real-world inspiration was.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Hugh and Bozo protect a submarine from foreign saboteurs, who then capture Hugh and try to torture the secret of his robot out of him.  Bozo comes to the rescue, and even manages to have a fight scene with a shark. Not to mention the earlier bit where he catches a bomb and throws it at a plane in mid air. The story itself is nothing special, but there are a few really entertaining moments.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul goes up against Forrest (an English brigand) and his gang of Arab crooks, who have slaughtered an English expedition and stolen their priceless ruby. There's nothing of interest here.

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic goes to Singapore to investigate the theft of gold bullion from a ship, and ends up captured by a gang of pirates. They're defeated by the end of what is a very dull tale.

'Flash Fulton' (by Paul Gustavson): This is a new strip about a newsreel cameraman who I assume gets into dangerous adventures during the course of his job. In this story he is assigned to get footage of the dictator Rudolph, who has just marched his forces into the fake country of Cerania. He gets the footage showing Rudolph leading a bloody cavalry charge against a defenseless village, which he thinks will put a stop to Rudolph's invasion. There's also a subplot about Rudolph having a double, but that goes nowhere. Again, this is a very mediocre story, and not a series that I'm looking forward to more of.

'The Cloudburst' (by A.L. Allen): In this prose story a US marshal is investigating some crooks smuggling cattle over the Mexican border. While they are herding cattle through a dry river bed, a flash flood threatens to kill them all. To be continued! The cliffhanger to this took me by surprise, and it promises to be a much different story than I thought it would be.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): It's a locked room mystery, in which Law must figure out how a wealthy plane magnate was murdered in a sealed room before the victim's innocent son is executed for the crime. The solution is pretty ingenious - a heavy block of dry ice is hidden in a lamp that the victim sits under. The heat of the lamp expands a piece of metal, the dry ice falls and crushes the victim's head, then it evaporates leaving no trace of a murder weapon. It's very clever, and enough to make this otherwise average story worth a look.

'Wings Wendall' (by Vernon Henkel): Wings investigates the disappearance of some planes over Alaska. It turns out to be the work of a mad scientist, who has captured the bombers and is controlling the pilots with drugs. Wings puts a stop to that nonsense, but we never do get a motivation for the villain, or any indication at all of what his goal is. It's pretty weak.

Cover by Norman Danberg

'Rang-a-Tang the Wonder Dog' (by Norman Danberg): Detective Speed and Rang-a-Tang save a baby from a fire, only to find that the other baby has been kidnapped. They track the kidnappers up north into Canada, capture them and rescue the child. This one has an almost frantic pace to it, but for the life of me I can't figure out exactly what the kidnappers wanted.

'Dan Hastings' (by Creators Unknown):

'Buck Stacey' (by Creators Unknown): Buck Stacey is still investigating the theft of Sandra Cumming's cattle. He can't catch a break, as he is framed for stealing her money as well as murder when a thug who attacks him falls on his own knife. At that point it got so farcical that I was enjoying it, but in the end Buck makes the real culprit confess and it all goes along the usual western lines.

'Experiment in Death' (by Creators Unknown): This prose Dan Hastings story is very bizarre. The population of Earth is dying, as the planet's oxygen is being stolen by a ray from the planet Termin, 2 billion light years away. Dan is sent to Termin, where he meets and is killed by telepathic alien crabs. He wakes up back on Earth, where Professor Carter has saved Earth by firing his own rays back at Termin. And then there's a weird explanation about what happened to Dan having happened in the future, but only if he's actually there at the time it happens. And for that matter, I don't see how his trip to Termin helps the situation at all. It's an intriguing set-up with some incredibly vivid passages, but none of it makes a lick of sense.  But you know what?  I'm willing to run with it as the final Dan Hastings story and say that eventually he does die on Termin exactly as described.  Hooray for inescapable destiny!

'Scoop Cody' (by Creators Unknown): Scoop Cody is a reporter who is tasked with tracking down a racketeer. It would be a fairly pedestrian affair, except that he is aided by a masked man called the Marvel.  The mystery of this guy makes an otherwise mediocre story just a little bit more interesting.

'Bob Phantom the Scourge of the Underworld' (by Irv Novick): I'm not really sure what Bob Phantom's deal is. He could be a ghost, or he could be a superhero with a lot of tricks. But nothing about him is explained, which is puzzling and sort of unsettling from the perspective of having read so many Golden Age comics now. In this story he terrorises a gangster until he gives himself up to the DA. I'd hesitate to call this story good, but the character is intriguing. The story-telling style is certainly like nothing I've seen in this era so far.

'Devils of the Deep' (by George Nagle and possibly Edd Ashe): Jim, Bill and Ted are naval adventurers. They come across a wrecked ship, and discover that it's been sabotaged by a man trying to claim its cargo of jewels. It's perfunctory at best.

'Secret Assignments' (by Maurice Gutwirth): Adventurer Jack Strand is sent to investigate the sabotage of his uncle's Balkan oil fields. It turns out that the saboteurs are spies trying to stop the nation getting the benefit of the oil. There are some slightly more sophisticated story-telling techniques on display here, but the story just isn't interesting at all.

'The Silver Fox' (by Creators Unknown): A police chief with a silver streak through his hair reminisces about the case that won him his nick-name of the Silver Fox. It's a hackneyed "the butler did it" detective story about a murdered millionaire, but at least it plays fair with the mystery. The art has some serious perspective problems, though.

'Corporal Collins, Infantryman' (possibly by Abner Sundell and Charles Biro): Jim Collins, an American stranded in Paris after it declares war with Germany, joins the French army and spends the next four pages just straight up killing Nazis. It's the first real anti-Nazi story I've read, and while there's a certain excitement to it, it's really quite terrible.

Cover by Joe Shuster

'Superman' (by Siegel and Shuster): A mysterious plague is killing the people of Metropolis, the work of none other than (surprise, surprise) the Ultra-Humanite. Superman helps a scientist find the cure, and has a bunch of confrontations with his enemy, from being shot with an electric gun to being hypnotised to serve him (don't worry kids, he's just faking). The story ends when Superman pulls the Ultra-Humanite in front of his own electric gun, killing him. Yes, Superman kills the Ultra-Humanite, and it looks quite deliberate to me. To be honest, it's not at all out of character for this version of Superman. It's another enjoyable story, though I'm hoping we get some villains besides the Ultra-Humanite in the near future.


'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): On his way home, Pep foils a train robbery. Two of the crooks escape, and return later to seek revenge. This is a fairly average story, but the presence of Pep's family grounds it and gives him a bit of added dimension. I've said it before, but all those sport strips before Pep became an action hero make him feel a lot more authentic as a character. The same thing goes for showing his family.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck is ambushed by two cowboys who steal his boots and leave him with a pair of their own. This is their way of framing him for murder and robbery, but Chuck escapes from town and brings them to justice. This isn't the first Chuck Dawson story with an intriguing opening and a lame finale, and it won't be the last.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane): In Kenya, Clip is hired to lead a safari carrying ivory to the African coast. By modern standards it's unusual to see the ivory trade portrayed in anything less than a negative light. The ivory shipments have been the target of the notorious Wolf Lupo, whose agents dog Clip at every turn. There's not much excitement to be had in this chapter, but a scene where Clip wins the friendship of some cannibals by giving them harmonicas is memorable (probably for all the wrong reasons).

'Forest Fire' (by Jack Anthony): A forest ranger rescues a woman and her son from a fire.  It just barely manages to qualify as a story.

'Tex Thomson and the Zombies' (by Bernard Baily): Now there's a title with some promise. Alas, the zombies in question are chemically hypnotised people under the command of an African tribe. Tex has been hired to find the son of a friend of his, and he ends up captured and about to be injected with the chemical. To be continued! This is okay, but as ever I find Gargantua to be a troubling character.

Holy crap, it's a full page ad for Flash Comics! Featuring the Flash! And the Hawk-Man! And, uh, the Whip! Huzzah!

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): Fog, Bill and Will investigate the death of a fellow pilot in a plane crash. It turns out his death was engineered by his wife and his business partner, who both wanted the money from an experimental engine for themselves. I was all set to hate this one, but the scenes with the wife and the killer at the end were quite good, and there's even a nice introspective ending. It's too bad that Fog's dialogue makes me want to gouge my eyes out every time he speaks.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Gorilla King' (by Fred Guardineer): In this story Zatara takes on a madman who has created a city full of gorillas with human brains. From the moment the gorillas dressed as firemen showed up I knew that this was going to be a hoot. Zatara, as usual, is the best thing in this issue.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

September 1939: Feature Comics #26

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane, still on the trail of a notorious jewel thief, outwits him at a staged robbery to gain his confidence. I was on board for this story at the beginning, but at this point it needs to pull the finger out.

'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel): In the last issue Captain Fortune went ashore, and the mutinous Severish fired the ship's cannons into the town. This installment is all a big buildup to Fortune sneaking back onto his ship to confront Severish, and the result is probably the most anti-climactic one-panel fight scene ever.  In one panel they're squaring up, and in the very next Fortune has his sword through Severish's chest.  It's the "One Punch!" of the Golden Age, for all of you JLI fans out there.

'Big Top' (by Ed Wheelan): Everyone is distressed because Hal's plane disappeared last issue, but it turns out that he's okay, and he and Myra get married. I guess it's the old "throw complications at young lovers who want to get married" story, which has never been a favourite of mine, mainly because I think that marriage has no bearing at all on the legitimacy of a relationship.  So for me the dramatic stakes are virtually meaningless. (Also, I could not give two shits about any of the characters in here.) We're promised that next issue will bring us a "New and better Big Top". Ooh, maybe Neil Gaiman will be writing?

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke): Ned plays gridiron, gets clobbered, and the team wins the game for him. This story is followed by a subscription form, and on the basis of this story I say "No thank you, please do not ever send me any copies of Feature Comics."

'The Clock Strikes' (by George E. Brenner): The Clock has been framed for robbery, and I was all set to dismiss this one as another formulaic story. But when the Clock captures his framer and threatens to make a rat eat through his abdomen I certainly perked up. Nothing like a bit of hardcore torture to make a story memorable.

'Rance Keane, The Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): Rance stops some crooks from forcing a rancher to sell to them. It's off to a bad start already, and to top it off Rance beats them by sending a letter to the marshal. It's almost like the creators are trying to personally annoy me at this point. The rancher, a guy named Pee Wee Lee who is fixated in his own moustache, joins Rance as his sidekick, but he hasn't shown much either way to indicate how his addition will affect the strip.  (Admittedly, he does have a cool moustache.)

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds goes up against an Indian tribe that is buying guns from a smuggler for an uprising against the mounties. The villain, Chief Red Hawk, really lacks commitment.  One minute he's all "We gonna kill them mounties!", but as soon as Reynolds is pointing a gun at his back he's "We only wanna live in peace!" He should be true to his Mountie-killing ways.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John J. Welch): After knocking out the champ last issue, Benton reluctantly becomes a boxer. After a few week's he's ready to chuck it in and return to being a cowboy, but there are some convenient shenanigans that result in him losing his ranch... UNLESS HE CAN RAISE $10,000 REAL QUICK! Cliche-riddled and boring.

'Cove of the Beasts' (by Robert M. Hyatt): In this prose story two kids and their uncle go to Skull Island looking for treasure. Instead they find a big guy with a bung leg, a scared daughter, and a hunch-backed servant named Ivan. I'm not sure where this is going, but it does have a mysterious vibe going for it. To be continued!

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): A rudimentary investigation into deaths in a mine is livened up quite a bit at the end when the culprit holes himself up in a barn and starts throwing dynamite at everyone. It's still fairly boring, but the end just about redeems it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

September 1939: More Fun Comics #48

Cover by Creig Flessel

If I seem a little more lost than usual, please keep in mind that I did not read the last issue of More Fun Comics, so there are strips for which I've missed a chapter.

'Wing Brady' (by Tom Hickey): In this chapter Wing Brady fights an Arab spy while he has a knife in his shoulder, then infiltrates the house of the evil Ali Pascha and takes him captive. Wing Brady is one tough hombre.  This is another solid action yarn, to be concluded next month.

'Detective Sergeant Carey and the Terror in the Swamp' (by Joe Donohoe): Carey and Sleepy are assigned to investigate a gorilla that's been attacking people and stealing from them. My scan of this issue is missing the last few pages of this story, so I don't know how it pans out, but www.comics.org informs me that it's a guy in a gorilla suit.  So this strip maintains its run of failures and disappointments.

'Biff Bronson' (by Joseph Sulman): Biff and Dan stop some saboteurs from engineering a war between Rana and Tudorland. It's very, very dull.

'Boxcar Tourists' (by Fred Schwab): This is a humour strip about two hobos who run afoul of an escaped criminal and try to get a reward for bringing him in. It's very mildly amusing. I wouldn't have been too upset if it had become a regular feature, but this is its only appearance.

'The Magic Crystal of History' (by Homer Fleming): This strip tells the story of Queen Anne and the Duke of Marlborough. It does a better job than usual of investing the characters with some personality, and so it held my interest a bit better than usual.

'Radio Squad' (by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster): This strip has some of the most competent and ruthless crooks seen in this blog so far. After robbing a jewelry store they shoot the jeweller in the hand for kicks, and ram Sandy Keane's car over during their getaway. Sandy and Larry lure them to another jewelry store to capture them, but the whole plan goes awry, the crooks kill the owner of that store, and then escape with all of the loot.  Later there's a car chase, and the crooks stage a crash that almost kills Larry. They're caught in the end, but those dudes don't mess about. I was almost convinced that Larry was dead, and that's more than I can say for any other villain out there.

'The Flying Fox' (by Terry Gilkison): Rex Darrell goes up against A-X and his air pirates, who try to steal the plans for Rex's experimental plane. Rex you should know that not only do I not enjoy your stories, I also think that your fox-eared helmet is stupid.

'Baseball Forecast' (by Jack Anthony): This prose story is about a baseball rookie who is called on in a crisis and hits a home run to help his team win. Standard stuff, and not at all interesting. But the final paragraph, in which the rookie's career is described in comparison with that of Babe Ruth, is pretty startling. It's never a good idea to try and claim that your fictional character is as good as one of the greatest players of all time.

'Lieut. Bob Neal of Sub 662' (by B. Hirsch and Russ Lehmann): Bob has been fighting against the forces trying to take over the Panama Canal for a while now, and in this chapter he finally catches the ringleader. It's a fairly underwhelming conclusion to the story.

'Bulldog Martin' (by Bart Tumey): Bulldog and his friends are captured and sold as slaves to Bom Ben Gay, an Arab chieftain. They escape, in what is a very boring and occasionally racist story. The only glimmer of interest comes at the end, when the villain is not killed but instead sees the error of his ways.

'Sergeant O'Malley of the Red Coat Patrol' (by Jack Lehti): O'Malley takes on a gang of kidnappers who fall foul of an Indian tribe. Not only does this story feature mounties, it also has an incredibly offensive portrayal of Native Americans.  And did I mention the mounties?

'The Buccaneer' (by Bernard Baily): A while ago Dr Killmen led a mutiny and threw Dennis Stone from his own ship. Now, in disguise, Dennis has convinced Killmen that he's a psychic, and infiltrates his crew. He then leads his men to take back his ship, and as the strip ends Dennis is about to have a sword fight with Killmen. This is fun stuff, and I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

September 1939: All-American Comics #8; Detective Comics #32

Cover by Jon Blummer

'Gary Concord, The Ultra-Man' (by Jon Blummer): Awesome, it's a new superhero! In the year 2239, Gary Concord Jr. takes the position of High Moderator of the USA, which I think makes him like a cross between the President and Superman. The position was created by his father, who we are told brought about world peace, and after Junior accepts he gets to read about his dad's true history.

Gary Concord Sr. was born during World War I, a war in which both of his parents were killed. After vowing as a child to wipe out war, he spends all of his time becoming the best damn war-monger there ever was, seeking to learn the ways of his enemy before taking it down. In 1950, another World War breaks out while Gary is in his bunker devising a chemical so deadly that it will force everyone to make peace. His bunker is bombed, the deadly chemicals mix, and as they flow towards him he writes the 'Formula for Peace'. It turns out the chemicals don't kill him, only put him to sleep for a very long time, and grant him super-strength. The story ends as Gary starts to explore the USA of the future.

This was a hell of a lot of fun. It's hard to believe that this is by the same guy as 'Hop Harrigan'.  I'm looking forward to the goofy president/super-hero angle to come in future stories, and Gary Sr.'s origin is pure pulp sci-fi. His methods seem idiotic to me, but I wonder if they were indicative of theories at the time. Certainly his creation of a deadly super-chemical to force peace on everyone is absurd, yet not so different to how the fear of nuclear armageddon affected the Cold War.

'Red, White and Blue' (by William Smith): In this story Red and Blooey (minus Whitey, who doesn't appear at all) help Doris West investigate a plot by the Black Cross to sabotage a new submarine. The Black Cross are thinly veiled analogues to US Nazi sympathizers, and they're a bad bunch. After they capture Doris they spend most of the story burning her toes with matches.  It isn't shown at all, but the implication of it is enough to make them amongst the worst villains seen yet. Red does most of the action here, saving the submarine, chasing down the Black Cross ringleaders, rescuing Doris and even making heart-eyes at her. This is a very solid and entertaining adventure story.

'Hop Harrigan' (by Jon Blummer): While Wash and Ikky fly a cargo of nitro-glycerin, Hop and Gerry get into a dog-fight with smugglers who are trying to shoot them down. You know you've got a good issue of All-American Comics when even Hop Harrigan is decent.

'Wiley of West Point' (by Lieut. Richard Rick): Remember the suspense last issue, when Wiley had a loose button on his coat, just as the Lubanian General Pomposo was about to visit? In this chapter he's sent to his room, teased mercilessly by his peers, and then throws a bucket of water on Pomposo thinking that it's his fellow soldiers. Against my better judgement I even liked this one. Either All-American Comics is now great, or I'm just in an insanely good mood.  (Also, Pomposo is a really cool name.)

'Adventures in the Unknown' (by Carl H.Claudy and Stan Aschmeier): Professor Lazar shows Ted and Alan his time machine (or as he calls it a "Tempomobile"), but gets so excited that he has a stroke and dies. His Chinese manservant insists that Ted and Alan continue Lazar's quest to travel through time, which they do. This is a transitional chapter, something I generally don't get excited by, and the depiction of the Chinese manservant isn't helping matters. But I'm still looking forward to what's to come.

'Popsicle Pete' (by Sheldon Mayer): Pete and his friends decide to start a radio station, but learn they need $100 for a license. Ho hum.  It's pretty obvious to me that Sheldon Mayer is putting his effort into 'Scribbly'.

'Scribbly' (by Sheldon Mayer): Scribbly has a new teacher, and gets in trouble when he draws an unflattering cartoon of her in the newspaper. This was fairly cliched until the principal got involved and had some good lines.  I've discovered that 'Scribbly' has been reprinted a lot more than it's contemporary humour strips (at least the ones in the comic books), and it's easy to see why.  A lot of its jokes still hold up.

'Ben Webster' (by Edwin Alger): Ben's scientist friend Pat Ented opens a school in which he hopes to take six delinquent kids and turn them good through kindness. Shenanigans ensue.  It's pretty easy to see where this is going, but it's not terrible so far.

'Syndicate of Schemes' (by George Shute): In this prose story, Jimmy and Phil find a dead body.  There's a bit more stuff going on, but that's what it amounts to. It's continued next month, but so far it hasn't engaged me at all. The most notable thing is a plug for Movie Comics, which is already cancelled.  The axe must have fell on that series very unexpectedly.

'The American Way' (by John B. Wentworth and Walter Galli): Last month Karl's son was deciding whether to enlist to fight in World War I. This chapter is all about that debate, with his mother saying he shouldn't be going to fight their own German people. In the end he decides he must, because the family is American now. I can't say I'm happy to see any pro-war patriotic sentiments in a story, especially when that story is also urging people to cast off their heritage.  It's not badly told, but any story of this kind has an uphill battle in getting me to like it.

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Batman' (by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane): We left Batman last issue on the trail of the Monk, who had kidnapped Batman's fiancee and taken her to Hungary. Batman defeats the Monk in this story, and it turns out that he is a vampire. Or a werewolf, the story claims both things at various times. This one isn't quite so gripping as the last chapter, but the Monk is still a good villain. He'd be great if he could figure out what monster he's supposed to be.  This is the first time we see Batman use a gun, as he kills the sleeping vampires with silver bullets.

'Spy' (by Jerry Siegel and Mart Bailey): Bart takes on a group of spies who are sabotaging the US navy in a fairly dull adventure. I've talked before about how I miss Bart's fiancee Sally in  this strip. In this one he rubs it in by talking about taking "his girl" to see a movie. Either he's moved on with another woman, or he's still with Sally and she's not allowed to be a spy any more. I can't say I'm happy with either prospect.

'Buck Marshall, Range Detective' (by Homer Fleming): Buck Marshall investigates a group of cattle smugglers who are paying for cattle with counterfeit bills. Weak and predictable as usual.

'Larry Steele, Private Detective' (by Ken Ernst): Larry deals with a fortune hunter who tries to kill a wealthy heiress who spurned his proposal. The culprit is obviously guilty from his first appearance, and his stupidity in revealing his guilt has to be seen to be believed.

'Vanishing Gems' (by Gardner Fox): A detective discovers that a man is stealing jewels from a jewelry factory by firing them out of the window with a slingshot. It's actually kind of an ingenious plan.

'Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator and the Skull-Face Cult' (by Fred Guardineer): Speed goes up against Skull-Face, a weird cult leader who is selling lethal beauty products to wealthy heiresses after taking their money. He's kind of rad with his skull mask and inexplicable giant ape servant. Fred Guardineer can come up with some intriguing stories and situations, but his dialogue is terrible.

'Cosmo, The Phantom of Disguise' (by Sven Elven): Cosmo tackles a group of criminals who are killing public figures with ice bullets, which melt after entering the body. Sorry Cosmo, not even your absurd ice bullets can make you interesting enough to care about.

'Bruce Nelson' (by Tom Hickey): Bruce Nelson investigates the murder of a notorious playboy, who it turns out had a lot of gambling debts. This is about the only strip in here where some real detective work gets done, as opposed to the half-arsed "jump to conclusions" and "follow hunches" methods that the other detectives use. It makes a big difference, but the story is let down by the villain's weak capitulation at the end.

'Slam Bradley' (by Siegel and Shuster): Slam is hired by a hotel manager to rid his hotel of ghosts, but it turns out that the whole thing was a practical joke being played on Slam. The story was entertaining enough, but it was an incredibly weak ending.  I can't believe Slam didn't punch the hell out of that hotel owner at the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

September 1939: Adventure Comics #43

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'The Sandman' (by Bert Christman): When Wesley Dodd goes vacationing to a lonely island in the south seas he gets caught up in the conflict between some pearl fisherman and the native head-hunters. He's barely in this to be honest. Most of the story focuses on the pearl fishermen and their desperate battle against the savage hordes, with the Sandman showing up at the end to strafe the natives in his plane and save the day. It's quite good, in large part due to the art. Christman uses a lot of large, bold panels for the action scenes, and it makes all the difference from the usual cramped Golden Age style.

Despite this entertaining installment, it seems to me that the Sandman strip is struggling to find its identity. It started as pulp noir, with the trench-coated detective solving street level crimes. Now he's an aviator getting involved in exotic island adventures, his trench-coat swapped for a sleek wetsuit. He was a lot more distinctive in his original incarnation.

'Barry O'Neill' (by Ed Winiarski): A mysterious masked man is bombing Paris landmarks and demanding money, and Barry and Inspector LeGrand are called in to investigate. Barry is on fire in this story. He calculates mathematically that the machine being used to blow up the buildings must be at the Eiffel Tower. He demonstrates his powerful singing voice by shattering a glass. He even identifies that an anonymous letter was written by "an Oriental" - a typed letter in flawless English, no less! It turns out that the culprit is Barry's arch-enemy Fang Gow, and he's thrown in jail by the end of the story. This really rings false to me, because last time he was the villain it was a 40 part serial, which is a fucking big deal. You don't throw the guy's return away in a one-shot.

'Federal Men' (by Jerry Siegel and Wayne Boring): Steve Carson investigates a case of poisoned cough medicine, and finds that the culprit is an employee who has been hired by a rival company. It's adequate enough, but Boring's art is still a little rough.  It should be noted, though, that the villain is killed by falling into a vat of boiling cough syrup.

'Test Dive' (by Terry Keane): In this prose story a submarine blows up during its first test drive, and a young lieutenant makes it to the surface to a rescue ship so that the crew can be saved. It's rudimentary at best.

'Socko Strong' (by Joseph Sulman): Last month Socko and his friends were investigating an island of prehistoric creatures. This chapter starts off awesomely with a man-eating stegosaurus, but then wastes the rest of the story with the characters running from earthquakes and rockslides. Needs more dinosaurs.

'Don Coyote of the 16th Century' (by Fred Schwab): Don and his 20th century buddy get ousted by the old king, and sail off to adventure in Africa. It's a transitional strip, and not a particularly funny one.  Oh, hold on, it's not transitional, it's the end.  No more Don Coyote, who has been with us from very close to the beginning.  It's no great loss at this point, but there was a time when this was my favourite humour strip. That was several creators ago, as this strip swapped hands a number of times.  Under Schwab it was alright, but never a stand-out.

'Captain Desmo' (by Ed Winiarski): Desmo and Gabby investigate some missing planes in the Bay of Bengal. The build-up is very good here, as Desmo lands on a skull-shaped island, finds some arrow-riddled corpses, and is followed by vultures. It gets a little more pedestrian once he's taken in by Count Ogreoff and his pygmies, who plan to hunt him for sport. To be continued! In this story's defense, this is the first time that I've seen "The Most Dangerous Game" used as a plot in the Golden Age.

'Anchors Aweigh!' (by Bart Tumey): Don and Red go up against a devil-worshipping doctor and the tribesmen he has tricked into serving him. It's not as good as it sounds. Don beats him by using some magic tricks of his own to get the natives on his side, in a sub-par story.

'Skip Schuyler' (by Tom Hickey): When movie star Lorraine Brent comes to Fort Morrison to shoot a movie, Skip is unimpressed. But during a speedboat stunt she is knocked out, and he goes to her rescue, and they make out James Bond style. It's a nice change of pace.

'Rusty and His Pals' (by Bob Kane): Last month Steve was captured by Chen Fu, and placed under a big scythe that's about to cut him in half. In this chapter he escapes, kills a bunch of henchmen, and meets up with Rusty. One thing that Bob Kane does well that pretty much no-one else is doing at this time is blow-by-blow fight scenes. A lot of other artists gloss over these things in a single panel, but Kane draws them out, and as such his fight scenes are really entertaining.

'Cotton Carver: The Revolt of the Pirates' (by Gardner Fox and Ogden Whitney): In the nation of Marlanda, Cotton Carver helps King Marl fight of a rebellion by bombing the hell out of his enemies. A lot of potentially exciting stuff happens, but it's very dry in its execution.

As a side note, I just realised that every page was in colour.  This is a pretty big deal, as most of the Golden Age comics have a middle section full of black-and-white comics, or pages where the only colour on them is varying shades of red.  I kind of liked it, as a way of identifying which strips the editors thought were the crap ones.  But it's also nice to see everything in colour.

Monday, August 8, 2011

September 1939: Action Comics #18

Cover by Fred Guardineer

'Superman' (by Jerry Siegel and Paul Cassidy): In this story Superman takes on a crooked newspaper publisher who is blackmailing a politician with fake photos. It's yet another story where Superman tackles some social ill that Jerry Siegel is upset with, and it's well told enough. But I'm starting to get weary of all the real-world stuff. I'm hoping the Superman stories get weird really soon now.

As far as I can tell, this is the first Superman story to be illustrated by someone other than Joe Shuster.  To Paul Cassidy's credit, I didn't even notice the difference.

Superman's secret message this month translates to : "Honesty at all times is absolutely necessary to strengthen one's character."

'Pep Morgan' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Not content with being irritatingly invincible in sport stories, it seems as though Pep has migrated over to the western genre, as he stops a crooked businessman from framing a guy for murder and stealing his land. I get enough of this nonsense as it is, I don't need Pep Morgan doing it as well.

'Chuck Dawson' (by Homer Fleming): Chuck is framed for the murder of the sheriff and another landowner by the obligatory villains who want more land. This ends weirdly, as Chuck just gets on his horse and rides out of town. Normally he would spend a lengthy amount of time trying to bring the bad guys to justice. It makes for a crap story, but nevertheless I approve of his new found prudence if it means his stories are shorter.

'Clip Carson, Soldier of Fortune' (by Bob Kane): Clip is still in India, where members of a tiger cult kill his friend Chunda. It turns out to be the work of Chunda's brother and cousin, who want his estates for themselves. It also turns out that Chunda isn't dead, and he leads a cavalry charge of elephants against the tiger temple. There's some decent action in this finale, but Clip himself is a bit subdued.

'Flying Fool' (by Terry Keane): A passenger plane goes down in the Atlantic Ocean, and then the passengers are rescued. It barely qualifies as a story, but at least it manages some mild tension at the beginning.

'Tex Thomson' (by Bernard Baily): Tex was captured last month by the cyclopean Gorrah, who in this story hypnotises him to do his bidding. Tex is of course is not really hypnotised, and does the Gorrah's bidding until he can capture him. The Gorrah kills himself with a poison tablet, but at least this time the story has the good sense to realise that he might come back some day. None of this is great, and there are some heavy racist overtones to the whole thing that make it a bit uncomfortable.

'Three Aces' (by Bert Christman): Fog Fortune, Gunner Bill and Whistler Will are three pilots who travel the world seeking adventure. In Baghdad they investigate the disappearance of several planes, and end up caught by the culprit, Professor Tussin, who plans to sell their planes to warring nations. Our so-called heroes are saved because one of them radioed the authorities for help, and as I've said before that's the type of climax that I hate because it reduces the protagonist's great heroic act to a telephone call. Plus, I want to punch Fog Fortune and his stupid accent every time he opens his mouth. I don't even know what accent he's supposed to have. "H'it's not h'a bit like bloomin' h'old London town" he says, but he doesn't sound like any Englishman I ever heard.

'Zatara the Master Magician and the Atlantis Mystery' (by Gardner Fox and Fred Guardineer): Zatara is found once more by Setap, the queen whose city he recently destroyed. She asks him to help her find Atlantis, and at this point I was sure she was setting him up. But no, she's on the level, and they do find Atlantis and the lost civilization therein. But an ancient evil octopus named Roor is awoken, and Zatara has to defeat it, which he does by making it eat sponges, salt, and so much water that it explodes. This is lots of fun, with some history (something I'm a sucker for) and a pretty creepy villain.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

September 1939: Blue Ribbon Comics #1

Cover by Norman Danberg

'Rang-a-Tang the Wonder Dog' (by Norman Danberg): Rang-a-Tang is a carnival dog who runs away from his cruel master, and saves a detective from being killed. With his new friend Detective Speed he rescues the DA's daughter from the crooks who have kidnapped her, and is made an official policeman. It's decent enough, but it sort of misses the point of the whole 'Wonder Dog' genre, which is the amazement the audience gets from seeing an actual dog do clever things. It's not something that can be duplicated in comics.

'Dan Hastings' (by Creators Unknown): Dan Hastings is a sort of space cop who is called in when the evil alien Mexidians unleash their plan to collide the Earth and the Moon. It certainly doesn't waste time on exposition, just barreling along without ever stopping to explain things. The result is a fun adventure yarn, albeit with some very clunky dialogue. This was my favourite:

CAPTION: "Dan overcomes one of the guards and captures his gun."
DAN: "Now I've got a gun!"


'Buck Stacey' (by Creators Unknown): Buck Stacey's a range detective (ironic huzzah), investigating rustlers that have been targeting the ranch of a woman named Sandra. The main suspect seems to be Steve Vance, who is also loaning her money to keep her ranch afloat. This one continues next month, which is COMPLETE BULLSHIT, because there's a whole bit at the front of the issue promising that there'll be no continuing stories. Archie, you liars!

'Foxy Grandpa' (by Jack Cole): This is a humour strip about an old grandpa who is smarter than everyone else around him. I'm more amused by the strip's name than anything else about it.

'Sugar, Honey and Huggin' (by Dick Ryan): It's another humour strip, about three bears who trick a sneaky fox into his own trap. I can't work out why any of the characters do anything in this strip.

'Ima Slooth' (by Jack Cole): This a detective humour strip, in which Ima Slooth tries to get a bank robber on tax evasion. Jack Cole is famous for creating Plastic Man, and I can see why he's still well known. He has a style of absurdist comedy that I haven't seen in these comics before this.

'Boodini the Great' (by Will Eisner): Boodini's a magician who proves that he can beat anybody in a fight, only to go home and get put in hospital by his wife. Ah, nothing like a bit of domestic violence humour, as long as it's the man getting destroyed.  Boodini never appears again, so it can only be assumed that his injuries were fatal.

'Burk of the Briny' (by Creators Unknown): Burk and his friend Happy dig up some radioactive quartz in... uh, some really snowy place. There's a guy who tries to kill them and steal it, but they kill him back. It's pretty terrible, and will thankfully be never seen again.

'King Kole's Kourt' (by George Nagle and Jack Cole): I never understood what was so funny about spelling things with a K. Anyway, this is about a king whose country has run out of money being complained to by some peasants. I didn't get the punchline. I can't even figure out a general sense of why it's supposed to be funny.  It's just a total non-sequiter that may or may not have made sense to people who where alive in 1939.

'Village of Missing Men' (by Cliff Thorndyke): This is about a white guy named Barrett who is forcing African tribesmen to mine diamonds for him. Two officers of the diamond patrol infiltrate the operation and arrest him. This is not good, and it's not helped by the fact that every white male in the strip wears a white shirt and a pith helmet. The ending also fizzles out when the villain just gives up for no good reason.

'Death Around the Bend' (by Pat Gleason): Jaime Steele is an American demolitions expert, and in this story he's kidnapped by South American bandits and forced to help them blow up an armoured car full of gold. He stops them in what is a relatively entertaining prose story.

'Little Nemo' (by Creators Unknown): This is bizarre. Nemo is a little kid who is taken to the doctor after being listless all day. The doctor gives him a pill, and suddenly he's in a rocket ship with some old men, flying through the mouth of the Man in the Moon. They fight some aliens, then fly off to explore other worlds. It's weird, but in a way that I find compelling.

'Crime on the Run' (by Jack Cole): This series is based on true crime stories, and purports to be as accurate as possible, using real names and likenesses. This one's about some robbers and murderers who are tracked down and arrested. The details aren't honestly interesting enough to get into. What's there is reasonably well told, but they could have picked something a bit more extraordinary. I did enjoy the mug-shot sequence at the end, though.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 1929: Smash Comics #3

Cover possibly by Gill Fox

'Espionage starring Black Ace' (by Will Eisner): Once again Eisner begins his story with a war montage, depicting the current strife in Europe. When the president sends out freighters to bring all US citizens home for their own safety, an unnamed foreign nation decides to sink them as part of its plan to seize Alaska (I'm not sure how that works, but I'll let it slide). The Black Ace infiltrates the submarine crew assigned to destroy the ships, and with the help of another American he takes control of the sub.  This is a cracking good yarn. The backdrop of World War II gives it a sense of real urgency, the action set pieces are great, and there's some pathos as well with the sacrifice of Ace's American buddy. This is really good stuff. (Also, Black Ace takes on the submarine crew while shirtless and wearing a monocle. He's rad.)

'Chic Carter, Ace Reporter' (by Vernon Henkel): Chic is sent to Mongolia to find Dennis Courtney, a missing millionaire sportsman. It turns out that he is being held for ransom by a Mongolian warlord. Chic rescues him in a fast-paced action story that's reasonably fun.

It's interesting that these two stories have both been set around real-world events. The previous story was rooted in the war in Europe, and this one features the Japanese occupation of China. It's a far cry from DC's use of fakes and analogues.

'Abdul the Arab' (by Vernon Henkel): Abdul rescues a British man (who has the formula for the strongest metal known to man) from an Arab warlord. There are some weird story-telling glitches in this that mar an otherwise adequate story.

'Captain Cook of Scotland Yard' (by William A. Smith): Cook investigates a robbery, which turns out to be the work of a mad scientist and his ape. This being the Golden Age, the ape has been given a human brain, and can talk and wear clothes. Despite some entertaining trappings, this story is a mess. The guy whose house was robbed is prominently set up to take a role in the story, but then never appears. The mad scientist starts banging on about a lost airmail pilot who had never been mentioned before, and has a death ray out of nowhere. Cook's investigation doesn't flow logically at all. It's all over the place.

'Invisible Justice' (by Art Pinajian): Invisible Justice goes up against a gang of crooks who are using a submarine to rob ships in New York harbour. This is mediocre at best, but Invisible Justice's new invisibility power makes it a bit livelier than his stories have been previously.

'Clip Chance at Cliffside' (by George Brenner): Since beginning this blog, I have developed a seething hatred for cowboys, ranches and mounties. I can safely add footballers to the list. In this story Clip is selected in the team at the expense of Ray Snort, who tricks him into going out after curfew, where he is seen by the coach and suspended. There's also a subplot about crooks trying to steal Clip's playbook so that they can use the inside knowledge to bet on the game. I zoned out around the time of the first forward pass. Alas, the story continues next month.

'John Law, Scientective' (by Harry Francis Campbell): John Law! Scientective! Law is a detective who uses science to solve his crimes. In this story he investigates some murders at an airport, where planes have been exploding. The general manager turns out to be the culprit, but he has no apparent motivation at all. There's also a mysterious gunman in the story who shoots anyone who knows too much about the murders, but he's not caught by the end. The whole thing feels unsatisfying.  (Any relation between John Law and Johnnie Law, the detective who appeared in More Fun Comics and was last seen being blown up by a bomb, is probably coincidental. Though I wouldn't be surprised if Roy Thomas has linked them at some point.)

'Mystery at Catalina part 3' (by Jeffrey Spain): This story finally finishes, as the old Chinese man Sun Wang helps stop a gang of crooks who are using a fake movie shoot as a cover for their dope smuggling. The supposed hero, Tony, does bugger all. This is okay, but it's certainly been stretched out over too many issues.

'Wings Wendall of the Military Intelligence' (by Vernon Henkel): Wendall infiltrates the organisation of the Hooded Terror (who looks a hell of a lot like Cobra Commander), and stops his plan to blow up the Panama Canal. This is average stuff, even if the villain does look cool.

'Hugh Hazzard and his Iron Man' (by George Brenner): Hugh and Bozo the robot deal with some spies who have stolen the plans to a new torpedo bomb. This is okay, and it's livened up considerably by an aerial dogfight between the crooks and Bozo. If only the robot didn't have such a stupid name I might enjoy this strip more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 1939: Feature Comics #25

Cover by Ed Cronin

'Charlie Chan' (by Alfred Andriola): People are dying from gas in a gold mine in San Pedro, and Charlie Chan is called in by an old friend to investigate. The possibility of murder is raised, and a solid detective story emerges, but this one is to be continued in the next issue. And I honestly don't believe that the story is interesting enough to carry over like that.  I'll have forgotten the details by then.

'Captain Fortune' (by Vernon Henkel): Tyrone Fortune is captain of the Revenge, a ship crewed by cutthroats that is tasked with attacking pirates and the French. Fortune earns the enmity of a crewmember named Severish, and when they put into a Spanish port for repairs Severish opens fire with the cannons when Fortune goes ashore. This is a fairly dry adventure story, but it does have a decent cliffhanger.

'The Clock Strikes' (by George Brenner): The Clock investigates a member of a crime gang who has infiltrated the police commissioner's staff. Absolutely nothing of interest happens in this story.

'Rance Keane, the Knight of the West' (by Will Arthur): Clyde (an old friend of Rance's father) commits suicide, but Rance believes that he was murdered. The culprit is his business partner, which is a shame, because any mystery in which the guilty party is the first person under suspicion is a bit dodgy. This ends up as more of a howdunnit than a whodunnit, but even then we're not provided with the clues to the mystery before it's solved.

'Big Top' by Ed Wheelan: Hal and Myra continue to whinge and whine about him going to Hollywood and leaving her behind when what they really want is to be married. After he leaves, the story ends with Hal's ghost visiting Myra, and then a dramatic newspaper headline that we aren't shown.  I suppose the implication is that he died in a plane crash, which would be just desserts for all the romantic angst I had to endure.

'Ned Brant' (by Bob Zuppke and R.W. Depew): Ned Brant and his friends play football. Meanwhile, this gentle reader contemplates suicide.

'Slim and Tubby' (by John Welch): Last issue set up a boxing match between the champion Noyes and Benton (who I think is a cowboy on the ranch). In this issue they fight, and Benton predictably wins. It's not the worst rendition of this story that I've read.

'The Rules of the Game' (by A.L. Allen): Two boys enter a rodeo to try and win some prize money to help their destitute father. Feature Comics is really busting out some old chestnuts with this issue. It's an adequate telling of a well-worn story.

'Jane Arden' (by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross): Jane is still undercover, pretending to be a jewel thief to flush out "The Man With the Scar", himself a thief of some renown. It's okay.

'Reynolds of the Mounted' (by Art Pinajian): Reynolds takes on a guy who tried to murder his partner to get sole control of a gold mine. On the Mountie Scale (a special scoring system that ranges from -10 to -1, leaving it automatically below any other genre published) I rate this a -4.

I'm struggling to justify why I even read this comic.  I'm trying to cover the super-heroes as comprehensively as I can, so I suppose that the Clock is the reason.  But he sucks.  And there are no other strips in Feature Comics that I'm interested in.  Now that Movie Comics has been cancelled this is easily the worst comic that I'm reading.